Churches as Welcoming Communities
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Churches as Welcoming Communities

Recently, I discussed how faith communities can provide a sense of worth to people, regardless of their degrees of success in life’s struggles, as long as these communities are welcoming. That welcome comes with certain conditions, however, as all members of the community must be respectful of each other, and the community must be kept safe.
It is essential that words and actions are respectful, even on matters where there are strongly held personal convictions. I will offer two examples. I fully support the notion that churches demand that no animals be harmed directly or indirectly on their premises and, for example, only vegan be food be served (such as at Seventh Day Adventist churches). However, I don’t think churches should insist that all members be vegan. Food choices can and should be respectfully discussed, but we should not judge our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Another example was introduced to me by a recent episode of “This American Life,” one of my favorite radio programs. It examined the struggles of people with pedophilia. There are many people who, by no fault or choice of their own, find themselves sexually attracted to young children. Those who act on these sexual desires cause great harm and should be isolated from society-at-large, but what about those who recognize that sexual contact with children (or sponsoring such contact by purchasing child pornography) is wrong and refrain from doing it? Should our churches welcome these people? Obviously, people with pedophilia should never be alone among young children, but I think they should be welcomed because they, like the rest of us, are children of God. [I am sure that there are CVA members who have been victims of pedophilia, and for most the wounds are deep and long-lasting. It might be impossible for them to have affection for people with pedophilia. However, I think all of us are still called to accept people with pedophilia as brothers and sisters in Christ. Just as one whose fear of dogs relates to a bad childhood experience should not despise all dogs, victims of pedophilia should not seek to reject from our communities those with pedophilia who do not pose a significant risk.]
Many faith communities are deeply divided on theological grounds. Indeed, the large number of Christian denominations reflects widely disparate interpretations of Christian tradition and scripture. Is it inevitable that divergent beliefs undermine faith communities? I will consider this question next essay. 

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